From NBC/NJ's Mike Memoli
INDIANAPOLIS -- Hillary Clinton said this morning that she does not regret her strong language about an attack on Iran, and also slammed the "elite opinion" of her proposal for a gas tax holiday.
During an hour-long appearance on ABC's This Week that was staged as a voter town hall, Clinton also said that "we should move on" from the discussion of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and turned the tables on host George Stephanopoulos when challenged over her positions on trade.
But the lengthiest exchange was about Iran. In an interview that aired on the day of the Pennsylvania primary, Clinton said that the United States "would be able to totally obliterate" Iran if they launched a strike against Iran. Host George Stephanopoulos asked the New York senator if she regretted the strong tone, which Obama compared to George W. Bush.
"Why would I have any regrets?" she said. "I'm asked a question about what I would do if Iran attacked our ally, a country that many of us have a great deal of, you know, connection with and feeling for, for all kinds of reasons. And, yes, we would have massive retaliation against Iran. I don't think they will do that, but I sure want to make it abundantly clear to them that they would face a tremendous cost if they did such a thing."
She also said that a "vigorous diplomatic engagement" should be the first strike, appealing to the "rational" Iranian people who are at odds with their government. "I don't think it's time to equivocate about what we would do," she said.
Issue No. 1 this morning was what has become the biggest policy flashpoint of the two-week campaign in North Carolina and Indiana -- her plan to impose a gas tax holiday, offset by a tax on oil companies. Clinton was asked if she could produce any economist who disagreed with the overwhelming consensus of experts and lawmakers who have questioned the plans merits.
"I think we've been for the last seven years seeing a tremendous amount of government power and elite opinion basically behind policies that haven't worked well for the middle class and hard-working Americans," she said. "I'll tell you what -- I'm not going to put my lot in with economists, because I know if we get it right, if we actually did it right, if we had a president who used all the tools of the presidency, we would design it in such a way that it would be implemented effectively."
Her answer reflected increasing efforts by the Clinton camp to place her on the side of middle-class voters against the views of those, including Obama himself, who they suggest are out of tough. She criticized "this mind-set where somehow elite opinion is always on the side of doing things that really disadvantage the vast majority of Americans."
More than 200 Hoosiers, chosen without input from the campaign, were invited to the Indianapolis hotel to be part of the event. A smaller number of North Carolinians participated via satellite. Michelle Skinner, who was one of seven members of the audience who got to pose a question, asked Clinton if the Jeremiah Wright controversy should still be a part of the discussion, or if people should "move on."
"Well, we should definitely move on," she said. "And we should move on because there's so many important issues facing our country that we have to attend to." But she did concede that "there's no doubt they talk about it."
Clinton also faced questions about agriculture, the economy, the possibility of an Obama/Clinton ticket, and trade issues. On the latter, Clinton enlisted host Stephanopoulos.
"George and I actually were against NAFTA," she said, noting he worked in the Clinton White House. "I'm talking about him in his previous life, before he was an objective journalist and didn't have opinions about such matters."